Detroit Lions vs. Bills Week 12 snap count observations: James Houston flashes in brief debut

Here is a closer look at the Detroit Lions’ snap counts from their Week 12 matchup with the Buffalo Billsalong with some thoughts on what it may mean going forward.

Offenses

Quarterbacks

Jared Goff: 71 (100% of offensive snaps)

Running backs

Jamaal Williams: 30 (42%)
D’Andre Swift: 24 (34%)
Justin Jackson: 18 (25%) — 17 special teams snaps (65%)
Jason Cabinda: 9 (13%) — 7 (27%)

Swift continues to slowly increase his snaps each week, adding a few more in every game. Jackson’s snap counts were surprisingly higher than normal, and they appear to come at the expense of Williams, who saw a slight tick down from previous weeks. Craig Reynolds is not eligible to return until Week 14, and once he is ready, there will still be a re-acclimation process, so Thursday’s snap distribution is likely close to what we may see over the next several weeks.

Tight ends

Brock Wright: 48 (68%) — 9 (35%)
James Mitchell: 17 (24%) — 9 (35%)
Shane Zylstra: 17 (24%) — 4 (15%)

Not a ton of changes here from recent weeks, though Wright’s snaps did dip a little as the Lions leaned on their passing game more than their rushing attack. Wright was used primarily as a blocker, spending 43 of his 48 snaps lined up inline, and was only targeted three times in the passing game.

Mitchell and Zylstra continue to split snaps close to even each week, but it’s fair to wonder if the rookie will see his workload increase down the stretch.

Wide receivers

Amun-Ra St. Brown: 62 (87%)
Kalif Raymond: 54 (76%) — 5 (19%)
DJ Chark: 52 (73%)
Josh Reynolds: 8 11%)
Tom Kennedy: 4 (6%)

In his second game back, Chark saw his snaps increase from 11 to 52 and he looks like he is close to being fully back into action. It’s important to take into account that it took St. Brown about three weeks of re-acclimation before he was back to his normal production, so the hope is Chark isn’t be far off from being 100%.

That same timeline should be considered for Reynolds, who saw eight snaps in his return, should be expected to see in an increase next week against Jacksonville, and hopefully a return to full health sometime after that.

With Jameson Williams on the cusp of also returning to action, the Lions’ wide receiver group could get a big boost down the stretch.

Offensive tackles

Taylor Decker: 71 (100%)
Penei Sewell: 71 (100%) — 4 (15%)
Matt Nelson: 12 (17%) — 4 (15%)

Welcome back, Matt Nelson. Nelson’s effectiveness in the sixth offensive lineman role is night and day better than anyone else the Lions had tried in the role. It’s a vital piece in the rushing attack and should be an important piece for them moving forward.

Guards/centers

Frank Ragnow: 71 (100%)
Dan Skipper: 71 (100%) — 4 (15%)
Kayode Awosika: 71 (100%) — 4 (15%)
Logan Stenberg: 0 (0%) — 4 (19%)
Ross Pierschbacher: 0 (0%) — 4 (19%)

Skipper and Awosika started in place of Jonah Jackson and Evan Brown, and against a stout Bills front, looked like you would expect OG5 and OG6 to look. It was a tough day for the pair.

This was a prime opportunity for Stenberg to break back into action—remember, he opened the season as OG3 and started at right guard—but he didn’t find the field despite the struggles of the pair ahead of him, likely indicating he is now OG7 on the depth chart. It’s fair to wonder if he will see the final year of his contract in 2023.

Defense

DT:

Alim McNeill: 46 (60%)
Isaiah Buggs: 45 (58%)
Benito Jones: 25 (32%) — 5 (19%)

No Michael Brockers as the Lions went lighter, leaning on the athleticism of their edge rushers on third downs and in their two-minute packages. All three interior defensive linemen saw their snap counts dip a bit, but the distribution stayed consistent.

EDGE:

John Cominsky: 63 (82%) — 5 (19%)
Aidan Hutchinson: 61 (79%) — 5 (19%)
Austin Bryant: 39 (51%) — 5 (19%)
Julian Okwara: 21 (27%)
James Houston: 5 (6%)

Hello, James Houston.

Houston recorded two sacks on just five snaps—setting a Lions record in his rookie debut—and made as strong a case for more snaps as he possibly could. With Julian Okwara suffering an injury in this game, Houston could get another opportunity to see the field next week, and he surely would be someone the Lions would want to sign to the active roster before the end of the season—if not this week.

This absolutely should happen for two reasons: first, so he doesn’t get picked up and signed by another team, and second so that when his contract expires, the Lions hold an Exclusive Rights tender (ERFA) on his contract.

With Romeo Okwara set to return to the field in the next week or two, the Lions could see a shake-up amongst their depth players on the edge.

Linebackers

Alex Anzalone: ​​77 (100%)
Malcolm Rodriguez: 38 (49%) — 2 (8%)
Derrick Barnes: 28 (36%) — 15 (58%)
Chris Board: 7 (9%) — 22 (85%)
Anthony Pittman: 3 (4%) — 22 (85%)
Josh Woods: 0 (0%) — 22 (85%)

Rodriguez saw his snaps increase in his return from injury and is still playing with a brace on his elbow. It does n’t seem to be limiting him too much, but he is still only seeing about two-thirds of his normal snap allotment of him.

Barnes saw his snaps decrease as Rodriguez’s increased but the Lions are still giving him opportunities as he continues to develop. It’s possible he starts cutting into Anzalone’s snaps over the final month and a half of the season, but as long as the Lions remain “in the hunt,” that will likely be put on hold.

Cornerbacks

Will Harris: 77 (100%) — 11 (42%)
Mike Hughes: 72 (94%)
Jerry Jacobs: 63 (82%) — 2 (8%)
Amani Oruwariye: 19 (25%) — 9 (35%)
Chases Lucas: 0 (0%) — 12 (46%)

Harris never left the field, as expected, and the Lions turned to Hughes and Jacobs to increase their workloads with Jeff Okudah unable to play. The Lions appear to have their pecking order at corner, with Okudah and Harris as their primary options, supplemented by Hughes and Jacobs, with Oruwariye as option five. Oruwariye found the field for a quarter of the team’s defensive snaps, but it was mainly in relief as Jacobs exited the game and was placed in the league’s concussion protocol.

Safety

Kerby Joseph: 77 (100%) — 11 (42%)
DeShon Elliott: 76 (99%)
CJ Moore: 5 (6%) — 22 (85%)
Ifeatu Melifonwu: 0 (0%) — 9 (35%)

The Lions also seem to have settled into their depth options at safety behind their starting duo. It’ll be interesting to see how the team handles Melifonwu’s snaps over the final six games. Are they comfortable letting him sit at S4 and acclimate to the position? Or will they push for him to get more time, possibly in three safety sets?

Special teams

Jack Fox: 12 (46%)
Scott Daly: 6 (23%)
Michael Badgley: 4 (15%)

Badgley had not missed a field goal or extra point as a Lion (or Bear) this season until CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz jinxed him in epic fashion:

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